Death of free-flying astronaut

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Former astronaut Bruce McCandless, 80, has died.  A member of the astronaut class of 1966, he never got to fly on Apollo, but on a spacewalk in 1984, he was the first person to fly the Manned Maneuvering Unit, flying untethered to a distance of 150 ft. from the Space Shuttle.

This is from an account of the spacewalk in the March 1984 issue of Countdown magazine:

“McCandless is hanging perfectly motionless up a bit in the bay — in front of the two windows to the spacecraft’s flight deck . . .  He moves fluidly under the backpack’s control . . . .  He’s rocking back and forth . . . side to side now, testing the tiny jets.  Why, he looks like a swimmer bobbing on the surface of a pool . . . .   And below him, bound by a tether, Bob Stewart looks like a scuba diver at the bottom of the pool.  What a contrast.  McCandless, with just a few minutes of experience with the backpack, looks under perfect control — movements precise, no waste motion.  Poor backpackless Bob swings awkwardly around an equipment stowage box.  Like a fish out of water, his legs flop around, his body twists with wasted motion.

“That’s what we are seeing:  A step in evolution, one as great as the difference between a fish gasping for breath on the shore and the first true land animals . . . .”

“The big moment comes.  ‘I’m going to leave the payload bay now,’ he calls — and then sheepishly adds, ‘With your permission.’  Who is going to stop one of the ‘fathers’ of the backpack when he says he’s ready to fly!”

“He rises straight up. . . .”

(reprinted by permission of the author)

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